All Stories, General Fiction, Short Fiction

Passion at High Elm by Tom Sheehan

For the first time a daughter had broken the absolutely perfect line of seven generations of newborn Brindamour boys.

Islemarie Brindamour was born at High Elm on a brilliant day in May, 1840. She came out of a dream and a desire and the endless need for sweetness the Earth gives off in secret places, if one is searching, if one is lucky.

Islemarie Brindamour, thusly journaled, came needed. Red-haired she came, too, and green-eyed and, eventually, an enchantress in movement and thought. Three younger brothers she had; Ponard was forever Pony Boy to her, Brilles was Bricks and Guillaume was Billy Bub.

One day, she believed, she would name flowers and stars.

She bounced and bubbled and leaped through seventeen years of pure joy to those about her, singing strange and unknown songs in a strange but beautiful voice as if an unseen tutor had touched her, dancing anywhere at a moment’s notice no matter her dress or company, reciting poems to sky, cloud, the stately elm, the corner of a tilted field. She swooned at butterflies, nested eggs pale as the bluest sky, music coming from beyond the horizon, holding her own private causes, her own concerns. All that comprised her life until late one evening, in the barn, fireflies coded and adrift on the breeze, the moon begging undue attention, she bedded the distance runner and classmate, Peter Driskowitz, helpless, puzzled, but soaked in Islemarie’s beauty and charms. “Don’t be scared, Peter. Touch me again like that. I like it, and I saved it for you.”

No fire until Islemarie had ever scorched its way across the hill, nor a lightning strike smote down on that conical rise. High Elm had come through those four generations of Acadians whose progenitor was originally ushered out of his home in New France by British troops. It sat its elegance and eternal charm beside a quiet river, in view of a huge lake, in the heart of the rocky presence of New Hampshire. And High Elm, too, at the beginning of the 19th century, came rocky and decision-borne.

For the unbroken generations of young men, tolerance was little for not toting the family aims. Boys did as they were told, supposedly. For years there was not the hint of shame or fool restlessness in the family. New Brunswick-ousted Ponard Brindamour had early declared this behavior in the new land, his life dedicated to the gods that had allowed him this chance in the New World after a British ship dropped him on the southeast coast of America, free, poor, but out of uniform, such as it might have been, with or against the British.

And asked where he would build his new home, Ponard pointed back over his shoulder at the hill he had just descended from. “L’Orme d’en Haut,” he said, and from then on it was High Elm by name. And High Elm passed down through the family always to the oldest son, the others riding off, driving off, at the end flying off to far horizons, new starts. Little of that passage was easy.

“That one teensy girl changed that whole family.” Clarkburn, the nearest neighbor to High Elm, on the edge of that vast piece of land, was talking on the common, summarizing the Brindamours. “Miss Chalice, down to the school, told me once that Islemarie’s middle name, once it becomes known, will snap through that family like a greyhound down a track, out the hander’s hand and hell bent.” His wide mouth and thick eyebrows made a mask of his face, but a revealing mask.

The listener asked, “You catch that name, you could, could you?” Back over his shoulder he looked, to where the hill was holding the evening sun in its lap. “Go with l’Orme d’en Haut?” The French was old and perfect and Clarkburn, for all his ways, recognized certain inflections in the questions, and felt history moving about them as if it were pages turning in a book they were writing.

“Ole Chalice, there a hundred years pretty near, says it’s Rebellion. Says that’s what her middle name is, Rebellion. Oh, when the time comes, they’ll know it too well, up there where the elm is!”


Islemarie took on Peter Driskowitz as one of her causes because other boys in school, forever after her, and probably a shot at the land for the first time ever, ignored the lonely runner. He was not handsome, but he was ever pleasant. Once, thinking about him, she said to herself, At least he’s not an ass kisser, and suddenly began to think about that gesture in a truer sense. That idea, that image, blossomed in her, warmed her at night, moved her hands, gave charge to her days. Not that Peter was her first lover, but this time she had selected him. The cause went back a ways; she had seen his mother, Filipina Pinto Driskowitz, working two jobs just to keep the family together, two younger sisters in the mix and the father gone overhill somewhere with loggers a few years earlier, and she knew that landlord Eustace Tagwell charged Pinto as much rent for her small house as he charged for bigger houses.

Islemarie tried to hold it in. She seethed and loved and cooed and swore justice rode the horizon. She bet on it! She willed it!

“Peter, I have a great idea,” she said at school during a lunchtime break. “Later tonight, come uphill. There’s a moon due tonight, and a star I know. I’ll meet you by the barn on the tilted field. Don’t let anybody see you.” She held his hand fleetingly. “Do you think you can handle that?” She squeezed his hand letting go.

They met. They lay back in the deepest part of the hay mow. Islemarie pointed out a star that peeked through a corner of the barn. “I’ve known that star for years. My father found the hole, where a knot fell out, and fixed it. I made the hole again. It’s my star hole.” She giggled and put his hand on her breast. He pulled it away slowly. They talked about his mother and her supposed tireless energy. “When she sleeps at night,” Peter said, “you couldn’t wake her up with a bomb. She goes to bed exhausted. We do what we can. I’d leave school, but she’d run me out of town, she’d be so mad.” In the darkness of sorts, the outspoken and committed girl knew his face was hung with sadness.

Islemarie diverted the talk from his mother, warmed her images all over again, and brought Peter into her shaking and shivering and more honest that any person she had known in her whole life. His face, in the light of the pinhole star, gazing down on her with the utmost fascination of what was happening to him, was so ethereally beautiful for short moments that she swore she would remember it forever. Later the whole created image fell into reality.

“So, Islemarie,” said her father, Ponard Brindamour VII, “what, all of a sudden, makes you ask questions about the farm? You thinking of marriage already? Boys in line so soon?” They were sitting on the wide porch, the moon spilling charms over leaf and limb of the significant elm, drowning the porch with shade, shadow, and golden patches moving on the floor like a fisherman trolling his line.

“It’s about time that some things change,” she said, her voice level, her mind fertile, Peter’s hesitant hand just leaving her breast again for the hundredth time. “When you got the farm, Dad, your brothers moved on, just like all the younger brothers have, all the way back. We have so few family people here. I only know cousins when they come once in a while. But you must admit, they don’t all like to come. The old feelings make that happen and you know it. Something has to happen here. Something different!” That voice had range, had reach, commanded attention.

“Like what?” said her father sitting upright in his chair, and her mother, alert, noting another change in her most beautiful daughter, accepted that an additional page in life was at hand. The warmth of the splotchy moon rays fell upon her arms, upon her legs. She counted the small shadows of her fingers cast down to the floor. High Elm shadows shared the floor with the moon. And his lone daughter had a special grace, which she had long known.

“Do something else with it,” Islemarie countered in a strong voice. She was standing, at her own lectern, causes in focus, the moon showing all her good parts. “Build a house in one corner of the farm, a small house, down by the fork in the road, behind the stone wall. A small house. Call it the Helping House, call it Brindamour’s Helping House. Oh my, oh my, wouldn’t that be something else!”

Her lashes glittered; her cheeks shone. She glowed. “Isn’t that the most wonderful thing we could do, most wonderful in all the glorious world? Let someone who has troubles live in it for free. Do something with what we have. Don’t pass all this on and let all others in the family move on. Make friends. Keep relatives. Be family. Be real. Don’t live in the past. Times have changed. I have changed. We have to change.” Then, apparently, as if she had run out of breath, she repeated her last words. “We have to change.”

The moon laid a hand on her face. The golden patina shone outward its soft brilliance. The patina was real, and was evolving more. Suddenly, slightly shaking, she began to hum one of her old and unknown tunes, one that often mesmerized and also agitated her father, for he knew it was something he should have known and didn’t. It was old France and he had let go of it, and he knew the force of his realization.

Yet her patina glowed anew. The tune moved across the porch. The moon lit up. A star shone beside the moon. A large shadow of leaf and limb lifted away from the porch floor as if it had been pulled from place. History, Ponard Brindamour suddenly knew, was taking place; if only he could remember this moment. And for a moment he forgot what his daughter had espoused. Islemarie’s beauty and largesse stunned him. A shiver went through his body as if a fact had been unearthed for the first time.

Her mother saw the changes full force, acknowledged her own acceptance. Something wrong would be righted, and her daughter would do it. Her daughter, who sang strange songs, who danced her way through life, who honored all beauty about her, would do it. After all the years of a lone male’s dominance, l’Orme d’en Haut would be altered forever.

And Ponard Brindamour, suddenly remembering the faces of younger brothers at their lot, cringed with the memory, realizing there were things in his life he had totally shut away from reality. He was jolted by her words.

His words came from a hollowness deep within. “That seems to be a take-it-or-leave-it situation. One without options. What are you really saying, Islemarie?”

“I am the eldest,” Islemarie countered, “but I am not the oldest son. Pony Boy is. He gets the farm or I do. If he gets it, we all go away, me included. If I get the farm, I will cut pieces right out of it. I will tell those disenfranchised, back I’d guess three generations at least and their offspring, that they have a piece of land here waiting for them. We can ring the hill and still have plenty left over. We can have our own colony. My god, the Lincolns had their compound at the Cape; we can have ours here at l’Orme d’en Haut, a ring of come-back-home Brindamours. Just think about it! It makes me sing again!” The strange hum came from her throat, melodious and happy. The flowers seemed alive, the breeze at accompaniment, the whole night coming together at a cause.

“It’s as simple as that.” She could not stop. “People need places to live. They are building everywhere. I know there were 500 homes not built in Massachusetts last year. I read that. I don’t know how many were not built in New Hampshire. But they are coming. Why not have family around us? Why not reconvene the lost generations? “

“And who would you put in the Brindamour’s Helping House?”

Standing in the moon splash, holding her breath for a bare moment, remembering all the conviction she had known earlier, and Peter’s real anguish about his mother, Islemarie said, “Pinto Driskowitz who just works her tail off to keep her family going, after her husband just up and left all of them. She deserves it. She works two jobs. She does other work, too.”

“How do you know all of this? Is Peter in your circle of friends? I never knew he was. Are you more than friends?” He was leaning forward on his seat.

“Oh, dad, are you asking if I’m a virgin? Of course, I’m not. It’s not like that anymore, really. I’m not. Mother wasn’t. You weren’t. Peter isn’t.” Other declarations were at hand, safety measures, father manipulations. “Pony Boy is, I bet, but I’d bet not for long.”

The silence and the moon settled themselves on the porch as if they were partners in the small drama. Islemarie offered, “I know you don’t think much of Peter, Dad. Don’t worry, I wouldn’t marry him. No, most likely not him. He’d be afraid of me our whole lives and I couldn’t stand that. And he’d eventually hate what I want to do with the land, regardless of what I’d do for his mother. He couldn’t stick to his guns like you have all these years. There’s a difference. I know that. Mother knows it too. You guys come with different tags and labels. It’s just like shopping at a store in a big city; you look for what you want, and then you buy it, one way or the other.”

And Islemarie’s mother, quietly at sewing, but reveling in her daughter’s stance on life, knew without a doubt that the house, Brindamour’s Helping House, would soon stand behind the wall at the fork in the road, downhill from l’Orme d’en Haut.


Tom Sheehan

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3 thoughts on “Passion at High Elm by Tom Sheehan”

  1. Hi Tom,
    Islemarie is a wonderful character to read about.
    This is done with your usual skill.
    The consistency you have in your writing is frightening!!
    All the very best my friend.


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